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Vail tracking concerns skiers

Computer chips have some passholders worried about privacy

Denver — Going skiing? — Going skiing?

— Going skiing?

You may be tracked.

Resort operators have impl­anted tiny radio-frequency computer chips with antennas in lift tickets and season passes. They’re installing more scanners on mountain slopes.



The scanners automatically track skiers and snowboarders, recording their whereabouts in company databases.

Some skiers and privacy advocates object.



“Any kind of technology that creates an automatic tracking system by default violates people’s general expectation — not just of privacy but of the world,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the pro-privacy Electronic Frontier Foundation. “You are not expecting to be tracked.”

A Colorado ski instructor started producing aluminum “ski-pass defender” sheaths that block radio signals and is selling them at the rate of eight sheaths a day.

Federal trade regulators for years have been tracking the spread of radio-frequency technology, which increasingly is embedded in credit cards, passports, items for sale in malls and experimental driver’s licenses. But the government has not set limits.

Now Vail Resorts is poised to deploy EpicMix, the most extensive on-mountain tracking system in Colorado.

All 89 lifts at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and

Vail, and at Heavenly in Calif­ornia, will be outfitted with scanner portals able to read the chips as skiers and snowboarders pass through, Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said.

Vail passes carry 900-megahertz tracking devices, which industry publications indicate can enable longer-distance reading, rather than the 13.56-MHz tags considered standard for ski passes.

Vail officials tout EpicMix as “the key to unlocking a new mountain experience,” a capturing-and-sharing grid to revolutionize the way customers “interface” with the mountain.

Vail invested an undisclosed portion of its $75 million capital-improvement budget to develop the system.

Features include the ability to set up accounts that use the chip data to track how many vertical feet and days have been skied.

The EpicMix program also allows users to download software applications for mobile devices, such as the iPhone, that enable the automatic display of their whereabouts on the mountain at social-networking websites such as Facebook.

“It’s a competitive differentiation which we hope translates into more people skiing at our resorts — and skiing more often,” Ladyga said.

Privacy?

“There is no privacy issue,” she said, noting that competitive runners are tracked in some races using similar methods.

Skiers and snowboarders who don’t want to be tracked can remove RFID chips from their tickets or passes using a hole-puncher, she said. If a day skier asks for a paper ticket with no tracking device, those can be issued, she said.

Any information the scanners acquire is to be kept separate from personal data — credit-card numbers, phone numbers, addresses — that are stored in resort point-of-sale databases.

Winter Park Resort , Cop­per Mountain and Steamboat Ski Area have not deployed tracking technology.


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